"The heat of Ormand's writing matches the heat of the Australian outback. Tender and enduring, A MAN WORTHY is an old-fashioned love story including sexual tension and a fascinating landscape that mustn't be missed"
"Recommended. A MAN WORTHY by Cassandra Ormand provides the romance lover with a lovely romp perfect for light entertainment. A humorous and sensual novel, A MAN WORTHY is a delightful tale of mistaken identity, love, and surprises."
Thaddeus Nolan is the quintessential alpha male. Drop a pampered rich girl into the Australian outback, add a healthy dose of male sex appeal with no time or patience for the demands of a woman wearing high heels, and you either get a serious battle of wills or a firestorm of chemistry. A mix-up in travel plans thrusts Chelsea Bowden of Boston into the midst of a group of uncouth men set to journey through the Australian desert, guided by the disturbingly attractive Thaddeus Nolan. Expecting the amenities of a posh Sydney hotel suite, Chelsea finds herself instead having to bear up to the rigors of a life that is altogether unfamiliar to her. She suffers the swarming flies, punishing heat, masses of mosquitoes, and a backside bruised from being forced to travel by camel, yet still the desert manages to captivate her with its beauty and mystery. Under a relentless sun, through the trials of an unforgiving land, she comes to know herself like never before. And she realizes that she is engaged to the wrong man. It's Thaddeus Nolan she wants, the rugged outdoorsman who doesn't fit into her circle of society.
A Full Length Novel
Chelsea Bowden stepped out onto the dusty airstrip, and automatically lifted a hand to her forehead to shield her eyes from the sharp glare of the sun. She was rather worse for wear, her white traveling suit rumpled and clinging damply to her slender frame. She and the suit had taken quite a beating over the abominably long flight from Boston, Massachusetts to Perth, Australia, a flight in which she had changed planes several times. Then she'd had to endure the horrible prop job that had bumped and bucked all the way to Ayers Rock. It had been a long trek, and she was weary now, weary to the bone. She could barely drag her feet one after the other as she made her way off the tarmac. All she could think was that it had finally come to an end, albeit a rather disappointing one.
Australia. From what she had seen of it so far, it was hot...sweltering, in fact. And dusty. Even her teeth felt gritty from the dust. She couldn't wait to get safely to her hotel suite, could almost feel herself sinking into a nice, hot bath. She wanted to fall into bed and sleep through to the next morning.
She hoped Lowell wouldn't mind if she didn't have dinner with him this evening. Surely, he would understand how tired she was after such a tedious journey, although she would probably have to be stern about it. He was far too accustomed to getting his way. It came from his upbringing. Lowell Blankenship III was the son of an obscenely wealthy Bostonian. He'd never had to work a day in his life. All he ever need do when he wanted anything was snap his slender white fingers and it was given to him.
Chelsea frowned at the thought. Sometimes she felt that way about his proposal of marriage. He hadn't really asked. He'd merely presented her with a ring and taken it for granted that she would accept. Somewhat like everything else he did, including this vacation.
It had been his decision, this trek to the Land Down Under. In fact, he had insisted on it, arranging the trip absent of Chelsea's opinion. He wanted something different, something new, something adventuresome. Not like any place they'd ever been before. Certainly not like their customary trip to the French Riviera.
Poised on the curb just outside the tiny airport terminal, Chelsea swept the parking lot for any signs of her fiancé, her flight bag resting rather heavily on one shoulder. It wasn't like Lowell, this sudden shift from the norm. Her surroundings were barren, hot, and dusty, too remote to be the sort of place Lowell would want to visit. It was practically the outback, so primitive. It didn't fit Lowell's high standards and sybaritic taste for the posh lifestyle he enjoyed.
"Such an odd country, Australia," Lowell had told her. "So many strange and wonderful sights. You'll love it, Chelsea, dear. Simply love it. Susan, at the travel agency swears by it."
She frowned. Susan! Lowell spoke of her often. Perhaps she had a bit too much to do with this trip.
God, she wasn't even sure why she'd come. Her relationship with Lowell had become strained of late. In truth, she couldn't imagine herself married to him. He was predictable enough, stable enough, but there was something lacking. She wasn't certain they shared the sort of love that could sustain a lifelong commitment.
After another glance around the parking lot, she began to chafe. There wasn't a limousine in sight. It irritated her that Lowell would leave her waiting in the blistering sun, especially after such an exhausting journey.
They should have arrived together. It would have been much simpler. But she hadn't been able to put off the business trip that had delayed her for two days, and Lowell had insisted on going on ahead of her. "To make sure everything is perfect for your arrival, darling," he'd told her.
Chelsea shifted the flight bag. It was beginning to wear on her. With a heavy sigh, she abandoned the parking lot for the marginally cooler interior of the terminal, but it was no consolation. Only a handful of people lurked about, none of them remotely resembling a chauffeur.
Despite the fact that she was a grown woman, twenty-five years old, perfectly capable of taking care of herself, it was a little unnerving to be left alone in a strange country, not knowing where to turn for help. Damn Lowell for leaving her to fend for herself like this! She was certainly going to have plenty to say to him when she finally did see him.
Resigned to the task of arranging her own transportation, she started to turn toward the flight desk and almost bumped into a man who approached from the opposite direction. Chelsea was momentarily stunned, more knocked off balance by his dynamic presence than their near collision. He was an amazing looking man, a tall man. She barely came to his shoulders, and such fine shoulders they were. Broad and muscular. His long, hard legs were encased in a pair of form-fitting blue jeans, and he wore a khaki shirt that he'd left open at the neck, revealing a light layer of golden brown hair on a solid looking chest. His skin bore the telltale deep tan of a man who spent a great deal of time in the sun. He had light brown hair that curled just below his collar, and the deepest brown eyes she'd ever seen. His entire persona, everything about him oozed intense masculinity. And he had a gaze that was so disturbingly direct that Chelsea felt her heart respond with an odd hammering jump-start of something painfully, exquisitely unfamiliar. Lord, what was this place, this Ayers Rock that it had managed to produce such a fine looking man?
Chelsea couldn't take her eyes off him. In her tightly knit circle of society, she rarely, if ever, met a man like this. He was earthy, animal, rugged and handsome and strong looking. He was all male, fully and completely, the essence of masculinity. The antithesis of the pampered Lowell.
Her gaze slid to his hands. They looked so strong, yet gentle too, as if they could stroke a woman to a passion that burned down to the soul. Shocked at the direction of her own thoughts, Chelsea swallowed hard and forced her eyes back up to his face. She was embarrassed to find that he was watching her, amused. He had noticed her attraction for him, and he seemed to take great pleasure in making that obvious.
She blushed crimson to the roots of her long blonde hair and averted her gaze, wishing the ground would swallow her up and end the agony. He was a stranger, for goodness sake. Only a stranger.
When he reached for her flight bag, tried to take it from her, she turned curious eyes back to his face. He grinned, showing a row of perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth. She was so busy drowning in his gaze that she automatically relinquished her bag to him. It seemed the right thing to do.
"You must be the one, ay," was all he said.
He spoke with a deep Australian accent that added all the more to his mystique, and he didn't really need any further help in that department. He had enough mystique for ten men.
With no further explanation, he turned on his heel and strode away. Chelsea stared after him. She didn't quite know what to do. Could this really be the person sent to pick her up? He didn't look like any limousine driver she'd ever seen before. He looked more like he belonged on a cattle station somewhere in God's country, certainly not among the staff members of an elegant hotel.
When she realized he wasn't going to wait for her, she summoned all her energy, which wasn't much after her agonizing journey halfway around the world, and started after him. He seemed to know what he was doing, so that must mean he was what he appeared to be. She was too tired to question it at this point. Might as well follow along.
Outside, she found herself working hard to keep up. She followed him to an old Land Rover that was parked haphazardly in the nearly vacant lot. Her eyes were on his back all the way, watching the way the muscles of his shoulders moved beneath the thin cotton of his shirt as he walked. He exuded sexuality like nothing she'd ever known before.
He swung her bag into the back seat of the Land Rover, and then turned to look at her, his eyes intent as he studied her face. Something in his gaze quickened her heart. When he moved closer, Chelsea stared at his chest, dismayed by the betrayal of her own reaction to him. She felt nervous, shy, bumbling as any schoolgirl. Her senses were scattered from the nearness of him. He leaned forward until he was just inches from her, and her lips seemed to part of their own volition. Oh, God, what was he doing?
Her mind went wild with crazy possibilities. But it only lasted for a moment before she realized what his true intention was, and then she felt like a complete idiot. He'd been reaching for the door, to open it for her.
It was a nasty awakening. Mortifying, actually. How embarrassing. For a moment, she'd actually thought that he might.... The way he'd been looking at her, with those smoldering eyes, it had seemed like he was about to kiss her.
What was wrong with her? It must be the heat of this place. Or perhaps fatigue. She was behaving so irrationally. It wasn't like her. She was usually so levelheaded and collected.
She slanted a peek at him. There was that off chance that he hadn't noticed her childish reaction to him. Lord, if he had, she would be so embarrassed.
She lifted her chin a fraction. What did it really matter? After today, she would probably never see him again. Besides, she was a grown woman. She could handle it.
Salvaging something of her dignity, she forced a smile and got into the Rover. He didn't move one iota, just stood there holding the door, and she practically had to brush against him to get into the contraption. Chelsea had the definite impression that he was deliberately making it difficult. She wasn't positive, but it seemed like he wanted her to brush against him, wanted to make her uncomfortable.
Already, she disliked the idea of the two of them traveling alone in the same vehicle. But he was presumably her only means of transportation, so she managed to settle herself in despite her trepidation.
The Rover was weather-beaten, dusty inside and out, as if it had suffered many a long day in the desert. The upholstery was tattered, and a broken spring poked her in the backside. If this was Australia's version of a limousine, it was sadly lacking. Ordinarily she would have been annoyed with such shabby transportation, but she was so exhausted now that she didn't even care. She simply didn't have the energy to complain. All she could think about was getting to the hotel and drawing a hot bath, soaking away the grime and the fatigue. It was going to feel so good. And it was just minutes away.
As the stranger climbed behind the wheel, Chelsea kept her eyes trained straight ahead. She didn't want to look at him, didn't want to notice anything more about him. But her attempts to ignore him were futile. When he reached for the gearshift, his hand accidentally brushed her thigh. Her pulse lurched, and she had to squelch an automatic response to gasp as an electric jolt went through her entire body. Hoping she did it casually enough not to offend him, she moved her leg away. She didn't want them to come into contact again. It was too unnerving.
"We'll be passing some great scenery," he commented, so abruptly that Chelsea nearly jumped out of her skin. "Just sit back, relax, and enjoy. We'll be there before you know it."
Chelsea tried hard not to notice his hands as they worked the wheel of the Rover. She was taking way too much interest in him when she should have her mind on her fiancé.
"I didn't catch your profession."
"Pardon?" she queried, surprised that he was making conversation. Drivers usually didn't bother to try and talk to her.
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm a financial analyst. Of a sort," she answered.
Chelsea glanced at him briefly from beneath her lashes. He was so handsome, and so strong. Even his nose was perfect.
"It's hard work," she said, trying to keep her eyes safely on the road ahead as the Rover moved away from the airport.
"Exactly what kind of hard work?"
"I wear several hats. I go in to satellite companies, assess their proficiency, and advise my boss. In some cases, I clean them up, get them operating more efficiently. I've negotiated bidding wars, takeovers. That sort of thing."
She stared at his profile for a moment, wondering if he was being sarcastic. When it came to her line of work, she didn't often get positive reactions from men. If anything, they usually resented her for being in such a power position.
"You seem a bit young to have got so far," he finally commented.
"I…work for my father," she reluctantly admitted.
"Ah." It was all he said.
Chelsea didn't like the sound of it. It made it seem like nepotism, like he wasn't taking her seriously now. "I pull my weight," she muttered, although she didn't know why she felt she had to explain herself to a perfect stranger. It was a tough business, hard for a woman to get into, even with the help of a doting father. It took guts of steel to do what she did. "If I wasn't good at it, he wouldn't trust me with it."
"He must have a lot of work for you."
"He owns controlling interests in several businesses worldwide. From computer software to steel production."
"I used to work for me dad, but…well, we had too many business disagreements."
The tone in his voice piqued her curiosity enough that she took a chance on looking at him again. "You used the past tense. Don't you see your father anymore?"
"He passed away about five years ago."
"Oh. I'm so sorry. It must have been terrible for you," she sympathized, thinking how lost and afraid she would be if her own parents were to pass away. She would be all alone in the world, no one to turn to, not even a sibling. Of course, Lowell would want to take care of her. But that wouldn't be the same, not nearly the same.
The stranger beside her didn't respond to her sympathy, and Chelsea didn't pursue the conversation further. In the silence that followed, the awkwardness settled back in again, and she returned her attention to the road ahead. On the horizon, the sun had begun to sink into the rugged landscape. It was beautiful actually. Dry, dusty, hot. But beautiful, too.
"You don't seem the type for a trip like this," he finally said.
She gave him a curious glance. That was an odd thing for him to say. The flight hadn't been all that atrocious, just long and tiring. She certainly wasn't the first woman to have done it alone. "It's not that bad. I'm sure I'll enjoy every moment of my stay here in Australia."
He turned and fixed her with a gaze that seemed to express some sort of admiration. But for what? She hadn't done anything to merit his admiration. How strange.
"You just look so...." He fumbled over his words for a moment, then shrugged. He never even bothered to finish whatever it was he had meant to say.
Chelsea didn't press the issue. She was too tired for conversation, anyway. The rocking motion of the Land Rover coupled with her exhausting journey was making her sleepy.
Prompted by a long silence, Thaddeus Nolan glanced over at his passenger. Her head had dropped back against the seat, her mouth had slackened, and her hands were resting limply in her lap. She was asleep. He grinned. Poor thing. It must have been a devil of a trip for her.
A second later the Rover hit a bump in the road, nearly tossing his passenger completely out of her seat. She was abruptly thrown against him, her head coming to rest against his shoulder as the vehicle settled back down. She didn't even wake. She just moaned a little, closed her mouth, curled her fingers into little fists and continued to dream. Thaddeus chuckled and lifted a hand to brush a heavy fall of blonde hair out of her face, gently tucking it behind one ear so it would stay.
Damn, she was a beauty. Soft blonde hair falling to just below her shoulders. Slender figure, rounded in all the right places. Lips that begged to be kissed. Perfect, pale skin that enticed his fingers to touch. And incredible green eyes. He'd spotted her the second he'd entered the airport terminal. The way she'd been standing there, looking sort of lost. How could he not notice?
He'd been stunned, actually. He hadn't counted on her being so beautiful, and so fragile. Too fragile for the journey ahead. She just didn't look the type to take on such a challenge.
God, he'd been a fool. He should have known better than to allow a woman on the trip. Her presence would make his job even more difficult. He would be so busy wondering about her, watching her, worrying for her safety that he wouldn't be able to concentrate on what was important.
He forced himself to drag his gaze away, angry with himself for even noticing how she looked. He would have to be careful that she didn't affect him to the point where he couldn't carry out his duties, duties that were far more important than a pair of intriguing green eyes. It could be dangerous. For him, and for the others.
* * *
"What do you mean you don't have an available suite prepared for Miss Bowden?" Lowell Blankenship III demanded of the nervous hotel manager.
The tall, blond man flicked an imaginary speck of lint from his already impeccable suit and looked down his nose at the hotel manager. Under Mr. Blankenship's ire, the manager had quickly become a wreck, and he had to pause for a moment to produce a handkerchief and mop at his damp brow.
"I'm afraid that is the case," the manager replied, tucking the handkerchief back into his pocket.
"That's impossible," Lowell argued, his eyes piercing the man clean through. "The reservation was made months ago."
"Well, apparently your travel agent made a mistake. I find no such reservation. There was only a request for one suite, that suite being yours, sir," the manager replied in a heavy Australian accent.
"Indeed!" Lowell snapped, glaring haughtily at the man.
"Mr. Blankenship, please accept my apology. We would have been more equipped to accommodate you, if only your travel agent had—"
"I'm certain my travel agent had nothing to do with this," Lowell insisted, the nasal quality to his voice increasing as he became more annoyed.
"Perhaps Miss Bowden would be able to find equally suitable accommodations in a nearby hotel. I would be more than happy to make the arrangements myself," the manager offered.
"Impossible!" Lowell retorted. "Chelsea will just have to share my suite with me, whether she likes it or not."
"That would be most convenient. I'm sure we could make her more than comfortable there."
Lowell Blankenship III gave him a look that clearly suggested he shut up. The manager obligingly closed his mouth.
"Indeed!" Lowell snapped, then turned on his heel and left the manager standing there.
* * *
Nearly two hours from Ayers Rock, Thaddeus pulled the Land Rover to a stop next to his Hummer and cut the engine. His beautiful passenger was still asleep, her head resting against his thigh now. She looked so peaceful he hated to disturb her. But he couldn't just leave her there all night.
With some very deft and gentle maneuvers, he managed to gather her up into his arms without disturbing her into full wakefulness. His burden clutched tightly to his chest, he left the Rover and carried her down a dark path toward a blazing campfire. A wiry, blond-haired man met him halfway, grinning at him through the dark.
"Ev'nin', Thad," the man greeted.
"Glendle." Thad acknowledged his friend with a smile and a nod of his head.
"She must be tired," Glendle noted, looking the girl over with friendly enthusiasm.
"She slept through the entire trip," Thad answered, shifting the woman's weight a little.
Glendle let out a soft whistle of appreciation. "That's a good, hard sleep gettin' through that rugged terrain." He looked again at the woman's face. "She sure is a pretty little thing. Funny, she don't look the type, ay?"
"Who am I to judge? She might be tougher than we realize."
A tent sat just beyond the campfire, and it was there that he took his burden. Inside, he gently laid her down on the single cot that dominated the little square of space. She moaned softly and rolled over, completely unaware that she had even arrived at her destination. Thaddeus gazed at her for a moment, watching the way her hair fell across the pillow. The tent flap was open and the light from the fire outside caught in her hair, turning it to spun gold. It did something to him, something he didn't often experience. A sudden, inexplicable tenderness surged up inside him. He could have stood there all night, content to do nothing but watch her sleep, as if that were the most interesting thing in the world. The sentiment rocked him to the core, scared him a little.
Angry with himself for being such an idiot, he stalked out of the tent to fetch her flight bag. Glendle stood just outside, too much of a gentleman to have followed him in but obviously too curious about the new addition to the camp to leave it alone, either.
"Not much for luggage, ay?" Glendle commented as Thad carried the single bag back from the Rover.
"Yeah. Not like most women, huh? Who would have figured? I doubt there's even a lipstick in here. Just the bare necessities. Shows she's got a good head on her shoulders, don'tcha think?"
Thad didn't wait for a reply, just ducked back into the tent. For lack of a better place to put it, he placed the flight bag on the floor near the cot, then glanced at the sleeping woman. She hadn't stirred. Poor little goose. She certainly deserved a good rest after her long trek. She was a brave one, he'd give her that much.
He hesitated. He didn't have any real business staying, but he seemed unable to tear himself away just yet. There was a sort of curiosity there, a possessive feeling that he didn't fully understand.
His eyes traveled over her rumpled and grimy suit. What was that: silk? Who the devil traveled in the outback of Australia in a silk suit? White, no less. It was almost ludicrous.
He stared. She looked uncomfortable in all those clothes. Maybe he should take off her jacket. At least it would keep her from getting all twisted in it during the night. Maybe her shoes and stockings, too. Who could really be comfortable in those things?
The second he touched her he had to wonder about the wisdom of such an undertaking. His fingers began to tremble, and his chest immediately felt constricted. He even held his breath as he unbuttoned the jacket and slipped it off her shoulders. Her skin was warm, so inviting that it took all his self-control to be a gentleman and avoid taking too much notice.
She stirred a little and mumbled something unintelligible. It made him pause for a second, but only for a moment. He finished pulling the jacket off and laid it aside, then loosened the buttons on her skirt. It was some sort of wrap-around job that showed too much leg, and it fell away without much help from him. He jumped back like he'd been struck by a viper. He didn't like feeling that he was taking advantage of her, and he abandoned the project right then and there.
Shoes he could handle, but the stockings were another matter. After hesitating over them for too long, he decided against removing them. Too intimate. If his fingers should brush her thighs, such long, lovely thighs....
He deliberately turned away. Damn the heat! He was perspiring, and he knew it wasn't caused by the desert around him. The desert could be quite cold at night. The real heat had been generated by this beautiful woman who seemed to have the ability to tempt him senseless even while she slept.
He glanced back at her. She sure was a heavy sleeper. He grinned. She would need to be in order to survive the wilderness he was about to take her into.
Trying not to let his eyes linger too long on the pretty silk slip she wore, trying even more desperately not to look at her creamy skin, he pulled two heavy blankets up around her and meticulously tucked the ends into the cot before he left the tent. He would be wise not to spend too much time thinking about her. It was going to be a long journey for all of them, and he would do well not to give her any special treatment. If he'd known she would be so attractive, he might have had some misgivings about the entire arrangement. But it was too late to turn back now. He would just have to do his best to avoid undue contact with her.
When he emerged from the tent, Glendle still loitered nearby. Ignoring the knowing grin on his face, Thad stalked to the fire. Glendle followed gleefully. He seemed to enjoy Thad's discomfort.
"I need a drink," Thaddeus croaked through a throat that was strangely dry, gravelly.
"I don't doubt that, mate," his friend agreed, still grinning. He lifted his brows and cocked his head to one side in amusement. "It's gonna be an int'restin' trip."
Thad scowled at him. He didn't like the reminder. The desert was complicated enough without having a beautiful woman tagging along.
Cassandra Ormand is an accomplished, award-winning author, with over 30 novels to her credit. She has been writing since the age of 15 and has published numerous short stories, articles, and books. When it comes to her writing career, she is known for her skills in hopping genres. She has written in nearly every genre, including romance, mystery, thriller, science fiction, and mainstream. She has recently added to her list of writing accomplishments with a spiritual non-fiction series, the first of which is titled Seven Years of Surrender. In fiction, she writes page turning novels that keep readers avidly engaged. Her non-fiction series promises to be a revelatory look at life, living, and what is beyond. Cassandra also writes under the pen names E. J. Deen, C. D. Blizzard, and Cassandra Blizzard.